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California and the West | MIKE DOWNEY

Summer Olympics Were One of His Great Moments

September 30, 1998|MIKE DOWNEY

At a here's-to-us breakfast Aug. 13, 1984, when the people of Southern California were feeling particularly star-spangled and President Reagan stood praising our Olympians as red-blooded American heroes, the honorable Tom Bradley was next up to speak. He rose from the dais at the Century Plaza and brought down the house.

"The Games are over," said the mayor of Los Angeles. "Let the traffic begin!"

Having left us Tuesday for the true city of angels, where there is no gridlock nor smog, Bradley will forever be linked with an event that banded L.A. together as a real city, not a far-flung region. He was a guiding light and our official host for the 1984 Summer Olympics, his administration's happiest triumph.

They were the Games no one else wanted.

But by the time they put out the flame, L.A. had staged a spectacle that turned a profit without turning a town upside-down.

"They were THE Games of the century," International Olympic Committee member Anita DeFrantz said after learning of Bradley's death Tuesday while traveling from Athens, where the Olympics were renewed last century and will be again in 2004.

"L.A. is the watershed for any Olympic Games now," she added, "and that's thanks in no small measure to Mayor Tom Bradley."

In fact, there might have been no 1984 Summer Olympics--anywhere--without him.

*

After the murders in Munich (1972) and the economic mess of Montreal (1976), no mayor in his right mind wanted a Summer Olympics anywhere near his city. It was havoc-forming. It would break your bank, snarl your streets, break your back, endanger your citizenry, break your heart.

Only one other city--Tehran--made a serious bid for the 1984 Games. But before a "winning" city could be anointed in 1978, Tehran, too, dropped out.

In November of the next year, Iranian militants seized a U.S. embassy and took hostages. That would have thrown Olympic plans into an uproar similar to the one in Afghanistan that resulted in the United States boycotting the Moscow Olympics in 1980.

The IOC had little or no choice but to award Los Angeles the prize.

Within a few weeks, however, Mayor Bradley formally recommended that L.A. withdraw its winning bid. This came after the IOC rejected a proposal that it protect Los Angeles from any or all financial liability.

Peter Ueberroth was president of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee and responsible for much of its success. He said Tuesday of Bradley's efforts, "If he had not risked his reputation, provided his leadership and convinced the International Olympic Committee that the Games could work in the only city that would take them at that time, they never would have come off.

"Tom Bradley was a leader in every sense," Ueberroth said. "I think he was the first African American in the West and one of the first in this country to take a major, major, major role in running something so big as Los Angeles, and he did it in such a way that anyone who might have had any doubts at all had those doubts quickly and permanently put to rest."

Eventually, led by Ueberroth, the LAOOC set up private funding and made the Olympics run not only smoothly, but lucratively.

Bradley relished every minute. That was him--a former UCLA quarter-miler--watching the sprinters at the Coliseum, or on his feet cheering when gymnast Mary Lou Retton flipped a perfect 10.0.

"He loved athletes and he really loved the Olympics," said attorney John Argue, who was an LAOOC board member and instrumental in bringing the Games to the city.

"I know that there are two stories about him attending the 1932 Olympics [at the Coliseum]. One is that he sold newspapers there, and the other is that he went over the fence to get in. If I'm a betting person, I'd say he went over that fence. That's how much he wanted it to happen."

*

A newspaperman not from L.A.--this newspaperman--was strolling in a Sarajevo marketplace one day during the 1984 Winter Olympics when he saw the mayor of Los Angeles go by. He waved. A few steps later, he felt a hand squeeze his shoulder. It belonged to the mayor, to whom he was a total stranger.

"Hi, Tom Bradley," the mayor introduced himself, extending a hand. "Where you from?"

This was the man Ueberroth knew too.

"He absolutely treated everybody equally," Ueberroth said. "I've watched him with the famous, the unknown, the rich, the poor, and there was no difference. He was gracious to everybody. You might not always agree with Tom Bradley, but you could always trust him."

Mike Downey's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Write to him at Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053, or e-mail mike.downey@latimes.com

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